With the advance of the German armies, it quickly became necessary to implement a specific administration for the conquered territory. In addition to the actual front, two zones are quickly hived off within the occupied territory. The larger part, the Okkupationsgebiet or General government, consists of all Belgian provinces with the exception of both Flanders, as well as the French territories of Maubeuge, Givet and Fumay. This zone is directed by a governor with full powers. The second part, known as the "step zone" or Etappengebiet, i.e. a long strip of some 50 km along the front, that includes both of the Belgian Flanders provinces and, later, the western part of Hainaut Province. This zone is administered by the occupying troops, in other words the 4th and 6th German armies. The limits of these regions as well as their administration will only be definitively determined at the end of October 1914, with the withdrawal of the Belgian army on the Yser.
Throughout the war, the Governor General is the most important figure in the territory.
The Governors General
Throughout the war, the Governor General is the most important figure in the territory. Answering only to the Emperor, he actually holds the powers of the parliament and of the King. Three men will successively hold this position over the 4 years of the war:
Generalfeldmarschall Baron von der Goltz, appointed by Imperial order on 26 August 1914, with a decree informing the population of his appointment on 2 September. He implements the entire administrative system for the occupied territory, before being assigned as an advisor to the Sultan in Constantinople in November 1914.
Generaloberst Baron von Bissing who arrives in Belgium on 28 November 1914, remaining there for nearly 3 years until his death on 28 April 1917. The population will doubtlessly have the most vivid memories of him. He initiated all of the major measures including the administrative separation, the deportation of the unemployed, the installation of the electric fence along the Dutch border, the Flemishization of the University of Gand, etc. For posterity, he left a "political testament for Belgium" that sets out the major theoretical outlines of the German policy regarding Belgium. Noting the hatred of the Belgians for the latter until his death, Henri Pirenne let him off somewhat easily: "In reality, this old man who embodied the military traditions of the Prussian nobility, had no bias against them. He governed them as he would have governed anyone, with his only concern being to properly serve his master. Accustomed to discipline, he thought that the population would easily comply, and that he had only to order so as to be obeyed, since might was on his side. He couldn't admit the possibility of national sentiment within this people that he viewed as a hybrid. The also had blind faith in the Organisation in and of itself, unaware that it could only succeed with the consent of the organised. As such, he couldn't understand the Belgians, and made no effort to do so. They appeared to him as a psychological enigma. Remaining in his residence of Trois-Fontaines, he avoided all contact with them, and his only relations were with his entourage or the ministers of the neutral powers residing in Brussels. For the rest, he would not have asked for more than for the country's continuing prosperity, thereby demonstrating the benefits of his government, but turned to the advantage of Germany and of its Kultur. "
Finally, upon von Bissing's death, he is replaced as governor general by Baron von Falkenhausen, uncle of the future military governor of Belgium and Northern France from 1940 to 1944. He is remembered as a man with more moderate and balanced judgments than his predecessor, resulting in greater confidence amongst the population.
The population will doubtlessly have the most vivid memories of Baron von Bissing
The administration, military or civilian?
Within the occupied territory, the governor general controls the entire administration, which is divided into several parts. Within the occupied territory, the governor general controls the entire administration, which is divided into several parts:
First of all is the strictly military part, controlled directly by the governor's general staff, that looks after a considerable number of areas. This includes the entire police service with duties such as monitoring inhabitants, prisoners and checking passports. It also looks after military justice. There is then a whole range of specific services such as, amongst others, public works, air defence, all of the management of the human and material resources, as well as all imports of raw materials.
There is then the civilian administration, directed by the head of the administration, Maximilian von Sandt, who is also under the governor's orders, but who nonetheless has significant powers. The Germans would bring several Belgian ministries under his umbrella, upon getting them operating again under their control. Five ministries were nevertheless discontinued (Foreign Affairs, Economy, War, Railways, Marine, Post and Telegraph), with their duties falling under the military general staff. Amongst the 6 others, now called departments and each run by a Generalreferent, we have the Interior, Agriculture, Science and Arts, Justice, Finance, Industry and Employment and Public Works. This distribution will remain in effect for the initial years of the war, until the administrative separation in March 1917.
The political department was in charge of monitoring publications through the use of censorship, and supervising the activities of the CNSA (National Relief and Food Committee).
Under the governor's umbrella
Alongside these two major organisations, there are several independent departments that report directly to the governor:
The Politische Abteilung or political department, that included several sections. It looked after the government's general relations with neutral countries, monitoring publications through the use of censorship, keeping an eye on the activities of the CNSA (National Relief and Food Committee), and looking after the territory's internal policies and foreign trade. This section was directed by Dr. Von der Lancken, "an educated man of the world, a diplomat of merit and as human as his duty would allow".
The Bank Abteilung or bank department, that managed the monetary policy within occupied Belgium. Its mission primarily involves watching Belgian banks in order to prevent them from transferring securities outside of the country, but it also ensures the payment of war contributions, it looks after the currency circulation, and so on. It is headed by the Imperial Banking Commissioner in Belgium, Oberfinanzrat von Lumm, director at the Reichsbank. In the initial years of the war, this section was also be the workplace of the future Minister for the Economy of the Third Reich, Hjalmar Schacht.
The Zentral-Ernte-Kommission or Central Harvest Committee looked after the distribution of the harvest of bread grains and oats within the Belgian population.
The Abteilung für Handel und Gewerbe or Trade and Industry Department was in charge of managing the war economy in Belgium, but in Germany's interests. This department sought out volunteers for work in Germany, it searched for raw materials for export to the other side of the Rhine, and it administered all sequestered buildings except for banks.
The Kommissar des Reichskolonialamtes or Commissioner of the German Colonies Ministry looked after everything having to do with the Belgian Congo.
Finally, a Kommissar des Rechnungshofes des Deutschen Reiches, in other words a seconded representative of the German court of auditors in charge of monitoring the accounts of the occupation authorities.
It should finally be noted that even though the step zone is under the army's direct control, certain functions still remain in the hands of the governor general.
This system will operate as it is for quite a long time, until governor von Bissing undertakes the large-scale reform with its administrative separation on 21 March 1917. From that date, all of the departments will be duplicated, with Brussels becoming the capital of Flanders, and Namur the capital of French-speaking Wallonia. The Walloon administration would henceforth be directed by Karl Haniel, a German member of the civilian administration of Hainaut. Each linguistic region will have its own administrative directors and its own gazette of laws and decrees, but while remaining under the total control of the governor general.